May 10, 2005

Warhol's 'Liz' sells for $12.6 million at Sotheby's

NEW YORK - Contemporary and post-war art sold respectably if not spectacularly at Sotheby's on Tuesday led by "Liz," Andy Warhol's portrait of actress Elizabeth Taylor, which fetched $12,616,000.

The vibrant Warhol silkscreen from 1963 was easily the top lot of the auction which took in just over $68 million, or $5 million above the low pre-sale estimate.

Sixty lots of the 73 on offer found buyers and records were set for 10 artists. They included Chuck Close whose large-scale portrait "John" sold for $4,832,000 including Sotheby's commission. The work easily eclipsed the old mark of $2.8 million but fell short of its $5 million low estimate.

While the salesroom was packed, the auction was not characterized by the kind of dramatic bidding seen at recent contemporary and post-war sales at Sotheby's and rival Christie's.

Sotheby's officials said afterward they had "a wonderful sale" with "incredibly strong" results.

Tobias Meyer, Sotheby's head of contemporary art and the evening's auctioneer, noted that Warhol's $9 million to $12 million estimate had been considered aggressive. But he said the figure was "completely justified in the market" as bidders drove the price above $12 million. The buyer was English collector Laurence Graff, a London-based jeweler.

Strong prices were also achieved by a group of Roy Lichtenstein works being sold by the estate of slain designer Gianni Versace. Led by "Blue Nude, which soared to $5,280,000, the five works took in some $8.5 million.

Other expected highlights did not fare as well. Willem de Kooning's large-scale sculpture "Seated woman," with a low estimate of $2.5 million, failed to sell. And Warhol's "Camouflage," with a low estimate of $1.5 million, couldn't manage $1 million.

The spring auctions wrap up on Wednesday at Christie's.

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